The Cars discuss their “best” song

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Despite emerging during the punk rock wave of the late 1970s, The Cars, hailing from Boston, established themselves as pioneers of the blossoming new wave movement. Their distinctive sound, characterised by a fusion of pop hooks, classic rock elements, and modern synthesisers, quickly garnered a devoted global following, rivalling the contemporaneous sound of Blondie and The B-52s.

Fronted by rhythm guitarist Ric Ocasek and bassist Benjamin Orr, The Cars made a name for themselves with their critically acclaimed self-titled debut album in 1978. While their emergence coincided with the punk era, this infectious debut drew upon a diverse array of influences that traced back to the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. Unlike many of their peers, Ocasek and Orr, both born in the 1940s, grew up during rock’s formative years, lending a seasoned maturity and an old-school slant to their music.

Although The Cars remained active in their initial run until 1988, before which they released five further studio albums, the 1978 debut remains a memorable masterpiece. The album was buoyed to a respectable peak of number 18 on the Billboard 200 by its three hit singles: ‘Just What I Needed’, ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ and ‘Good Times Roll’.

‘Just What I Needed’ proved the most popular of the singles, reaching number 27 on the US charts; meanwhile, ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ trailed, reaching a peak at number 35. Like most of the songs on the album, Ocasek wrote these singles in a modest basement flat he lived in during the mid-1970s.

Although superficially romantic, ‘Just What I Needed’ suggests there’s more at play than a simple message of noble sacrifice: “I don’t mind you comin’ here / And wastin’ all my time / ‘Cause when / you’re standin’ oh so near / I kinda lose my mind”. The narrator seems hopelessly in love, yet the chorus line, “I guess you’re just what I needed / I needed someone to bleed,” suggests a macabre undertone.

This is a prime example of Ocasek’s knack for keeping his pop-oriented tracks off the beaten track. As the song that clinched their riches, ‘Just What I Needed’ remained a staple of The Cars’ live performances. Contrary to Thom Yorke’s derision for ‘Creep’ or Robert Plant for ‘Stairway to Heaven’, The Cars often cited their biggest hit as a favourite.

“On some level, I think I’d pick ‘Just What I Needed’ as our [overall] best,” lead guitarist Elliot Easton told Vulture in 2020. “It’s our song. You expect the Beatles to perform ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’, and you expect the Cars to play ‘Just What I Needed’.”

In an earlier interview, seen below, the band discussed the importance of ‘Just What I Needed’. “I remember hearing ‘Just What I Needed’, thinking … ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool,” keyboardist Greg Hawkes remembered. “It’s got something sort of unique about it, its, like, nice and concise and … fairly short pop song format.’”

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